My great grandmother died when I was very young so I never knew her, but she inspires me. For some number of years she ran a boarding house on Main Street in Natchez, Mississippi. I’m told she secured financing from a bank on her reputation alone, at the word of local businessmen who told the bank they would find her to be an excellent investment. I find that amazing. And you know what? She was an excellent investment.
Among the many tasks she managed each day, she cooked meals. I don’t know the menu, but I imagine there was plenty of Southern fare. If my grandmother’s fried chicken is any indication of my great grandmother’s skills, she was an excellent purveyor of Southern cuisine. I’m almost 100% sure she made fried chicken and taught my grandmother. I’m that sure because—right in the middle of downtown Natchez—she kept a chicken yard out back.
If you are in the south in the early to mid-1900’s, and you are keeping chickens, you are fixing people eggs and fried chicken. She didn’t just cook those chickens, she caught, killed, plucked, cleaned and cut them into pieces, too. I guess if I’d grown up doing that kind of thing I wouldn’t think anything of it … but to be honest, I can barely grab eggs out from under hens without freaking out.
Chicken enchiladas were less likely to be on her menu. Maybe if her boarding house were in Mexico…. I imagine there may be numerous chicken yards and a great poultry business there because there seem to be as many dishes with eggs and chicken in Mexican cuisine as there are in Southern cuisine.
I very rarely make fried chicken, but I often make chicken enchiladas. That’s because when you make a batch of green sauce using chicken stock, and you make chicken stock using chicken breasts, you need to do something with all that chicken. And chicken enchiladas are my favorite way to handle the situation.
If you’ve seen my chocolate enchilada recipe, this one is pretty much the same, but with chicken. Unlike my chocolatey, beefy version, I always pan fry the tortillas before dipping them into the sauce. I also like to add a little more cheese into my chicken version than I do in the beef version.
Regardless of what type of enchilada you are making, the key to full, soft tortillas is to ensure the sauce completely covers them before you bake them. If you don’t completely cover the tortilla, parts will get dry and hard.
You can use a red sauce or a green sauce with enchiladas. I use my basic green sauce. The last time I shopped for Serrano peppers, the store was out, so I went with jalapeños. It was a nice variation of heat and flavor from what has become my standard green sauce. I want to pick up some red peppers in December to make some red sauce for a holiday enchilada batch.
The hardest part of making enchiladas for me has been keeping my tortillas whole after I bake them. (They taste amazing, but they don’t always look so pretty.) I spoke with a Mexican friend who told me the problem is the tortilla brand.
A local Mexican grocery carries a recommended brand that I’ll try when my current stock runs out to see if that makes a difference … unless I decide to break in a tortilla press I received as a gift that I would like to try out. Making corn tortillas sounds like fun!
I find that cooking—especially when I’m experimenting or getting my hands dirty—is like play. Kids play naturally. It’s actually a form of processing their world and learning.
Through the years, many of us have been conditioned to believe that being “grown-up” means being productive, practical and serious. We have to remember how to play before we can play with our food. I hope that you can take some time soon to play with your food, or just play!
“Cooking is not a science but an art, mistakes are okay, messes are fine—the pleasure is in the creating and the sharing of the result.”― Lori Pollan
Meat of 2 chicken breasts, shredded
18-24 corn tortillas
3-4 C green sauce
1/2 C half & half or cream
1/2 C cuoto powder
2-3 TBSP cooking oil
1/2 to 1 C cuoto powder or Mexican crumble cheese
Prep time: about 60 minutes Cook time: about 30 minutes
Yields: 20-24 enchiladas
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil 11 x 13 casserole dish with pastry brush, covering bottom and sides completely. Pour a small amount of green sauce to cover bottom of dish.
Mix cream and cuoto powder and set aside; mixture will have a similar consistency to ricotta cheese.
Cover bottom of frying pan with oil (adjust quantity as needed to fully cover pan bottom) and heat on medium. Fry both sides of corn tortilla and set on paper towel to drain until all tortillas have been fried.
While frying tortillas, heat green sauce to a boil and reduce to low heat. Dip fried tortilla in green sauce until it softens enough to roll.
Place tortilla on plate. Spread on a heaping tablespoon of cream and cheese mix. Place several pieces of shredded chicken on tortilla (do not overstuff). Pour a small amount of green sauce on top, drizzling the length of the meat and cheese filling. Roll up tortilla like a cigar and set fold side down into casserole dish. Repeat until all tortillas have been filled.
Pour remaining sauce over the tortillas, careful to fully cover tortillas, and sprinkle with cheese.
TIP: If you have leftover cheese mixture, add it to the top of your enchiladas before pouring green sauce over them.
Cook for about 30 minutes, checking to ensure the cheese and tortilla do not over brown. Remove and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
TIP: If you want to reduce fat or don’t have time to fry tortillas, you can skip frying the tortilla. For cheesier enchiladas, you can substitute Mexican cheese blends or Monterrey Jack cheese for cheese ingredients in this recipe. The pictured version includes a blend of taco cheese with the cuoto powder.
This makes an excellent meal served with any combination of sides such as Mexican rice, refried beans, and Mexican street corn. Add guacamole as a topping or in a side salad. Sour cream is suitable as a topping and cool down for the spicy sauce.